When does discipline become abuse?

Discipline helps while abuse harms a child

Melissa Keith and Natalie DuBovi


Part of growing up involves getting a job and gaining more responsibilities. Through discipline, children are taught to become responsible, honest, kind, sharing people. A major responsibility is becoming a parent and taking care of another human being. Babies are unable to do several things on their own including walking, eating and talking. They need assistance for common tasks like going to the bathroom and washing their hands. Parents guide children in the right directions so that they can live and eventually teach their own children about these same tasks.

Sometimes a full-time job is not enough to support a family. This leaves parents having to get another job just to pay the bills. A parent might want to spend time with their child but are unable due to work. The child often feels abandoned and will start to act out. Another common act of neglect comes from not completing school work.

In early February, a Beaver Falls man was convicted and sentenced to between six to 20 years in prison for endangering the welfare of a child. The man was watching the 4-month-old when he threw the baby onto the couch giving the baby “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and bruising the skull. It was not clear if the baby would have any permanent brain damage. When the case was presented, the child was bruised, had previously broken ribs and a broken arm. The mother had missed the 4-month appointment, but if she hadn’t the doctors could have prevented further harm and help the baby heal properly.

“I personally think that people should take parenting classes to understand how to deal with their emotions while caring for a child. I also think all parents should understand how fragile newborn bodies are. I believe in the court case, the man was sorry for his actions but the damage had already been done,” an anonymous juror said.

Four people were charged in Rochester, Penn. in 2013 for abusing a “severely injured” baby, according to police. The parents said the baby was injured after falling out of a stroller. The grandmother of the child heard about the incident and told the parents to take the baby to the hospital because any brain injuries at a young age can become long-term. After not hearing from the parents, the grandmother called the police.

If only the grandmother was there to take action, the baby may have been saved from the abusive parents earlier. A non-accidental physical injury is abuse. If a parent becomes careless and starts to neglect or beat their child, a responsible adult should step in and provide a safe haven for the child.

There is a significant difference between discipline and punishment. If a teacher or outside source starts to notice a mood shift or signs of abuse, there should be limitations or restrictions in place for parents and children. If it has been proven that the child is in danger of any kind, they should be immediately taken out of the situation.

Discipline helps a child while abuse hurts a child. Parents need to analyze the situation from a different perspective and act responsibly. They should essentially take a step back, think and then respond.

When other people start noticing changes in a child’s behavior or bruises all over their body, that is when it is clearly abuse. Children need to be disciplined, but not to the point where they’re being tortured. Many people discipline their children in different ways. Some parents choose different measures to correct their children’s behavior. Children respond to punishments differently than other children.  

If you notice a child is being abused, but you’re afraid to step in yourself, there are organizations that can be contacted to take care of the situation and put the child in a safer environment. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be contacted at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).